- “The 3rd & 4th cat climbs should be easy”
- “Hmmm, that bit doesn’t look too steep on TV”
And so the list goes on. Various people have asked me if it was harder than I thought it would be. Well, I knew it would be hard. I certainly don’t think I under-estimated it – but thankfully it wasn’t the miserable slog-fest that some people seemed to find it….but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mid life crisis, what mid-life crisis?
Having visited Provence 2 years ago and made a pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux, it held a special place in my middle-aged mind. I knew the Tom Simpson story. I had watched a few Dauphine’s and Paris-Nice races and seen the climb up to the much-hyped lunar summit. Mont Ventoux is never just called Mont Ventoux, there is always some dramatic adjective associated with it. The “legendary” Ventoux, the “cruel” Ventoux and so on. Certainly, as I drove up it 2 years ago in the searing heat, passing struggling, wobbling cyclists, I realised that it deserved its reputation.
So the combination of mid-life crisis & the announcement of the Montelimar to Mont Ventoux stage of this year’s tour as the Etape route conspired to put Big Col & I on the start line at 6.30am on the 25th July with 9498 of our closest friends.
Scotland? Hilly? Pah!
I knew that training had to involve hills – and generally I like hills. My ectomorphic frame would appear, outwardly, to lend itself to climbing and I responded well to my training, finding my regular routes around the Bathgate Alps becoming more manageable with each ride. I sought out longer climbs, such as the Rest & Be Thankful which offered just over 4 miles at around 5% or so. I conquered it fairly comfortably but little did I know that the confidence gained here would only carry me for the first Category 3 climb of the Cote de Citelle, weighing in at 5.2km at an average gradient of 3.9%. It was at this point, climbing amid the collective silence of hundreds of other cyclists, that I was ruing the day I looked at the course profile & belittled the efforts involved in Cat 3 & cat 4 climbs.
How much is enough?
I didn’t have an overly formal training plan and despite some residual fitness from the tail end of last year, I consider that my training really only started during the Christmas holidays with a nice, slow, Tri-Club group ride in the frost. A comfortable 40-miler was enough for me to feel that this was a reasonable starting point. For the second winter the turbo was my friend as I discharged the sweat of my labours on the kitchen floor for the mind & crotch-numbing sessions once or twice a week.
I was given a book called Successful Sportives which contained some good, monthly plans which gave a good idea of the sort of volumes I should be aiming for. April always felt like a milestone – come April I had to be out on the road, a couple of times a week, getting towards volumes approaching 100 miles per week. A nice spell of weather and a quiet spell of work made daytime rides a possibility and slowly the volumes increased.
It was around this time that I made what I believe was a crucial decision. I was probably out on one of the many soul-destroying rides during March and April that seemed to involve hour upon hour into a headwind. Given that Big Col had decided to do the Embra Marathon rather than 10-Under, I had agreed to do the Embra Half Marathon with him as part of his training. As I was weighing up the time I had to give to my training I decided that any time I was supposed to have been doing a long run, the time would be better spent on the bike. So the Embra Half was canned & other than the distraction of a couple of sprint tri’s – the bike was the focus. (And the lovely new bike certainly didn’t dampen the enthusiasm any!)
Now that I have completed the Etape, there are definitely things I would do differently in my training, were I to tackle it again. But since I did not have this knowledge to hand before the event I was fairly satisfied that I had done as much training as I could. As well as the shorter rides I had 2 one-hundred-milers and about 5 eighty-milers (One of which was the Etape Caledonia) which I knew would stand me in good stead as far as endurance was concerned. One of my 100-milers included 7600 feet of climbing so I was happy that I had gone up as many hills as I could practically find. I was even happy to taper over the final week rather than cram in some more panic rides.
So then, with all that training, there was only one thing left……
Three Days in Provence
Having decided to undertake a package tour with Sports Tours International, other than booking flights we were catered for from start to finish. The organisation was pretty flawless, as you would expect from a company who apparently represented 8% of all the Etape entries. Other than our overly-pessimistic tour-rep, Dave, I would have no hesitation in recommending Sports Tours. Dave told us, in his thick Brummie accent, that if we didn’t die in the heat of the slopes we would likely die on the descent into Malaucene. Nervous first-time Etappers were positively bricking-it by the time Dave had finished dispensing his prophecies of doom!
After checking in to the well-appointed Novotel, which claimed to be in Avignon in much the same way that Ryanair would have us believe that Prestwick is in Glasgow, we scouted the luxurious retail park surroundings for le supermarche. Duly discovered, we stocked-up on nutritional essentials (ok, not really) and water. Our “dinner suitable for athletes” (yup, “athletes”, that’s us alright) was polished off & we headed off for a fitful few hours sleep as the nightmares of Happy Dave’s predictions played in our minds.
Gotta love those freebies!
Sunday was registration followed by the hoovering up of freebies & cheep kit and wandering about in the sunshine thinking “aye, it’ll be a scorcher tomorrow”. Tourist-of-the-day award went to one of our party who went into a shop and asked, albeit in broken schoolboy French, “je voudrais un sandwich”. We muttered our praise at his efforts only to be taken aback at the next sentence, “and a can o’ coke as well please”. B minus, must try harder.
More athletic sustenance at the hotel and we retired to the prospect of a very few hours of sleep before the 4am breakfast, 4.50am departure & 7am Grand Depart from Montelimar.
Tune in next week for Tales From The Peleton as I expose the rampant abuse of performance-detracting substances!
Tags: cycling, Etape du Tour, France, Tour de France